Dustin Hucks crossed his own personal finish line beat up and tired. The run from Burbank to Lubbock, Texas in 2009 was supposed to take a month, was supposed to raise $1 million for cancer research and was supposed to begin with a media sendoff in Johnny Carson Park that could bolster his spirits for most of his 1,120-mile journey.
But on the day he left, his 29th birthday, no reporters came to Johnny Carson Park. And instead of raising $1 million, the screenwriter and journalist from Hollywood raised $1,000.
His road crew abandoned him three weeks in, taking their RV and supplies with them.
When Hucks’ aunt, Debbie Yoakum, saw him finally arrive in Lubbock, which is his home town, it was the end of weeks of worry. Though she didn’t make the journey with him physically, she said she was by his side mentally and taking every step with her nephew. On the day he finished, she watched him approach, flanked by a police escort, and no longer had to wonder whether he would sleep under a roof that night.
“The minute I saw him turn that corner I was so proud of him,” said Yoakum, herself a stage 4 lymphoma patient.
Hucks has had a couple years to reflect on the odyssey — a stunt, really — that he hoped was big enough, and maybe crazy enough, that it would get a lot of attention, which he could then direct toward the larger problem — finding a cure for people like Aunt Debbie. He considers the run from Burbank to Lubbock a success — it still raised $1,000, and if that’s the money that enables the cure to be found, then it was worth it.
It was worth it for other reasons, as well. The solo experience allowed Hucks to meet cancer survivors in Arizona and New Mexico — where people contracted the disease by living near open-pit uranium mines. He discovered what he was made of — enduring three staph infections and three bouts of flu. Traversing a third of the country on foot will do that to you. It also provided him an opportunity to see his sister one last time. A few months later, she died in a car accident.
There was also Aunt Debbie, and the other people in Hucks’ life who had cancer. They’re still out there, and as Hucks put it, they’re “dealing with the chemo and fighting … and if they can do that, I can spend three months suffering on the side of the highway.”
That’s exactly what he plans to do. Hucks will again leave Burbank on foot next January and run 40 miles a day for four months to raise more money and awareness for cancer research.
The goal is still $1 million, and he’ll have a little more help this time. Livestrong, Lance Armstrong’s cancer foundation, has committed shorts, shoes and other gear to help him along (the product of three weeks of cold-calling). He made many friends on his first journey, and Hucks hopes they will come through with donations and support.
Did I mention this time he’s running to New York? The distance has special meaning. Before she died, his sister planned to bike from Texas to Florida. This run will complete that East Coast goal on her behalf.
“If you want to go half way, you might as well go all the way,” he said.
I talked to his Aunt Debbie earlier this week to ask her about her nephew’s upcoming run.
He hadn’t told any of his family he was doing the run this year, so I broke the news to Aunt Debbie over the phone. First, she asks, “New York? How far is that?”
I say, “About 3,000 miles, give or take.”
There’s a pause. Then her reply: “I hope his feet are in good shape.”
To donate, e-mail Hucks at email@example.com.
Bryan Mahoney is a recent transplant to Burbank. When he’s not on the treadmill running his typical half-mile, he can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter at 818NewGuy.